Le droit d’auteur is the French equivalent of copyright. It differs from copyright in two main ways. Firstly le droit d’auteur consists of two sets of rights; rights governing the exploitation of the work, droits patrimoniaux belonging usually the author or heirs, and droits viosins, or neighboring rights, which may vest in someone else involved in the project, like an editor or a film director. Secondly le droit d’auteur confers moral rights on the author (and heirs) to control the use made of the work. Copyright does not provide such a moral right. Many countries have however agreed to enforce these moral rights even though they are not part of their copyright law — not all states in USA do. Copyright requires that the work exist in physical form, at which point copyright automatically takes force. This is not the case in France and Belgium where le droit d’auteur is the basis of the law: thus an impromptu improvised performance would be protected by the droit d’auteur, but would not be protected by copyright. Someone filming it might, I suppose, have droits visions, though I suspect they’d need to be doing so with the author’s agreement to qualify.

In 2006 the French parliament voted to implement the EU copyright directive, which shades the distinction. This is also happening from the other end as more and more copyright countries accept the moral right aspect of le droit d’auteur.

One might say copyright is focussed on the reproduction of a work, while le droit d’auteur looks at its creation.